Drought-resistant plants, green innovation and flood storage are hallmarks of Chelsea

The Chelsea Flower Show looks to a climate change future, with gardens full of drought-resistant plants, water storage and green innovation.

With the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), which runs the show, introducing a ‘green audit’ for larger gardens and offering an environmental innovation award for the first time, the focus this year is on sustainability.

And as celebrities got their first glimpse of the world famous show before the King and Queen toured the event on Monday, Dame Judi Dench was on hand to plant a seedling of the Sycamore Gap tree, which was felled by vandalism, in the grounds of the National Trust site. Octavia Hill Garden.

The seedling, grown from a seed of the tree that stood in a dip on Hadrian’s Wall for 200 years and was named by Dame Judi Antoninus after Emperor Hadrian’s adopted son, will be on display during the show.

Andrew Jasper, director of gardens and parks at the National Trust, said he hoped visitors would take inspiration from seeing the seedling. He said: “When we first saw the seedlings sprout, we knew there was hope for the future of the tree.”

Ann-Marie Powell, who designed Blue Diamond’s Octavia Hill garden with the National Trust, said it was important to establish (not just plant) trees in gardens and urban areas to reduce heat, damp shade and provide clean air.

These had to include non-native varieties, she said.

“We need to use trees and plants that will be here in twenty years when London is as hot as Barcelona. What’s the point, all these trees will be dead and so will the wildlife they support.”

Foxglove in the Bridgerton Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Foxglove in the Bridgerton Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mrs Powell, who has had to adapt her plants for the garden due to this year’s weather, which affected the growing season, and choose resilient plants, said: “It’s climate change and we need to respond to grow plants. not only for our well-being, but also for our beloved garden animals.

“It goes very quickly. I see it now year after year, and I think a lot of us, even as professionals, are kind of dealing with it and I think it’s a time of massive experimentation.”

At this year’s show, the RHS awarded its first prize for environmental innovation to a garden that uses 3D printed terracotta blocks that fit together like Lego to create planters inspired by the keyhole gardens of sub-Saharan Africa, which provide moisture-retaining , sustainable planters for crops. .

The garden for World Child Cancer UK was designed taking into account not just the end result, but also the process, and was created on site at the Royal Hospital Chelsea without any power tools, says designer Giulio Giorgi.

The 3D blocks require no concrete or chemical glue, are fired with clean electricity, can be reused and rebuilt and will go to RHS Wisley after the show to be part of a children’s learning project, while the plants are drought-resistant.

Mr Giorgi told the PA news agency: “We really need to deploy our technologies and also garden strategies to face climate change, to deal with more modest resources.

“For me the message is: you can do something beautiful with simple means.”

RHS head of sustainability Malcolm Anderson said the garden was “a beautifully modest, smart garden”.

He said the award was introduced because the assessment process at Chelsea did not address sustainability.

Chris Packham holds up moss in the National Auistic Society garden (Yui Mok/PA)
Chris Packham holds up moss in the National Auistic Society garden (Yui Mok/PA)

“What we really wanted to do is, as we see more and more designers and contractors really pushing the boundaries of what gets built, to reward innovation for innovation’s sake,” even if it failed in terms of producing a top show garden. he said.

Mr Anderson said choosing a winner from the eleven gardens that took part was a very difficult decision because so much work had been put in by everyone. He added: “We moved the dial, and we did it within a year. ”

He suggested that gardeners were waking up to the need for sustainability, and that the charity had raised the issue – but in a positive way.

Many of the gardens at this year’s show are filled with drought-resistant and wildlife-friendly plantings, tips for saving water, defending trees and a naturalistic look, including wetland meadows, mossy hills and traditional country gardens and meadow flowers.

A garden from flood insurance company Flood Re, which rains every 16 minutes and raises water levels in the garden, shows how backyards can be made more resilient to flooding, with one in eight gardens likely to flood this year.

A tank that collects runoff in the garden stores 10 bathtubs of water – the amount of rain that can fall on a house in a downpour – while the sunken garden contains 100 bathtubs.

This means it can help reduce the risk of flooding in homes, with flood-resistant plants planted in the lowest parts of the garden and the less water-loving flowers higher up.

Harriet Boughton of Flood Re said: “It’s beautiful, but also purposeful.”